Howard's rezoning shortcuts

July 30, 2006

Developers were mighty pleased that Maryland's Court of Appeals refused last week to get involved in their squabble with a citizens group over the quickie rezoning of 38 parcels of land.

But the developers' successful bid to keep the issue off the November ballot only fans the flames of anti-development fervor in the county and feeds the suspicion that rezoning profiteers have far too much influence over county officials.

County Council members who crafted the so-called Comp Lite process, through which properties were permitted more lucrative uses outside of the traditional 10-year comprehensive remapping, should acknowledge their mistake and vow it will not become a precedent.

With Howard facing some of the greatest growth pressure in the state, its leaders should be tightening the rules to assure that roads and other facilities are adequate and that a significant portion of open space is protected. The piecemeal approach of Comp Lite, which offered scant public notice, serves only the developers' profit margins.

The Court of Appeals fell short on its job, too. An attempt to put the results of the Comp Lite process to referendum failed because a Court of Special Appeals panel ruled last month that petitions used to gather signatures for the referendum didn't adequately explain the legislation at issue. The three-judge panel of the lower court failed to offer much guidance about how the explanation should have been crafted, however, and the high court's refusal to consider the matter did nothing to clarify the point for future petition drives.

Although Comp Lite won't be formally on the ballot, it may be the key issue in the county executive and County Council races. Candidates should make clear just whom they intend to serve: voters or developers.

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